Purpose: Urothelial carcinoma is a disease of the entire urothelium. Recent molecular insights suggest that the biology of some upper urinary tract and bladder urothelial carcinoma differ. These differences may affect tumor phenotype. Observational studies conflict as to the significance of anatomical location on the behavior of urothelial carcinoma. We compared the biological outcome in a large series of urothelial carcinoma with respect to anatomical location.
Materials and methods: We analyzed urothelial carcinoma in 425 patients treated at 4 centers according to stage and anatomical location, including the bladder in 275, the ureter in 67 and the renal pelvis in 79. Relapse surveillance was performed for a median of 46 months (range 2 to 216). A separate invasive bladder urothelial carcinoma population was also included to pathologically balance upper and lower tract urothelial carcinoma cases to allow behavioral comparisons.
Results: As a whole, upper urinary tract urothelial carcinoma is more invasive and worse differentiated than bladder cancer (chi-square test p<0.0001 and 0.015, respectively). In pathologically matched cohorts recurrence to less aggressive disease, progression to more advanced disease and death occurred in 37%, 40% and 44% of patients with bladder urothelial carcinoma, and in 41%, 44% and 43% of those with upper urinary tract urothelial carcinoma, respectively. Multivariate analysis revealed that tumor stage and grade (Cox p=0.0001 and 0.012, respectively) but not location were associated with behavior.
Conclusions: Urothelial carcinoma behaves identically in the upper and lower urinary tracts when stage and grade are considered. The majority of tumors relapse within 5 years of excision. The current move to minimally invasive/nephron sparing techniques for urothelial carcinoma of the upper urinary tract appears safe. Care could be analogous to that for bladder urothelial carcinoma.